As kids in South Florida head back to school after Valentine’s Day deadly school shooting, the focus across the country is making our kids feel safe. It starts with taking these 10 steps:
- Create a culture of awareness. After a tragedy, even if you are personally affected or not, your community suffers. The long-held beliefs are challenged in some of the darkest times. Combat the darkness by taking the unfortunate opportunity and learning from it. Create a culture of awareness for yourself and your community. Don’t further frighten the children by making the concept ever-present, but seek to encourage vigilance.
- Move beyond fear. Fear is caused by confusion and misunderstanding. Children experience fear far more intensely because they do not have the means to understand why a tragedy took place. Adults still face fear, but they have more of a schema to categorize such catastrophe. Children are fearful after an incident, but they can move through it by your efforts to create understanding. Use these times to discuss issues such as mental health with your children. Describe issues in a context that matches an age-appropriate narrative as to not cause more fear.
- Limit media consumption. The children and the community know what happened, and repeating points on the news can further traumatize an individual. Turn off the television and begin processing at your own pace. Talk among your family about methods of healing and spread these therapeutic efforts among the community in the time of need.
- Make room for communication. Children feel safer if they have adults they can trust. Be open to children’s questions and concerns. Let them voice their fears and communicate with them rationally. Don’t feed the fear machine any further. Have a set discussion space for middle and high-schoolers when they return to classes. Offer the option for a town hall in your community. Get people to discuss their feelings while grieving together to move forward.
- Offer digital and physical spaces. The younger generations may not feel comfortable discussing issues of tragedy in-person. Those who are more reserved should not lose out of the opportunity for discussion. Present a context for digital discussions with chats or through utilization of social media. This is beneficial because it creates an open space to talk for those who have experienced unrelated tragedies as well. Healing together creates stronger communities and individuals.
- Encourage kindness and empathy. Helping children, particularly younger, understand why such catastrophic events occur can be a hindrance to their development. Don’t deny their questions, but rather opt for a focus on the more positive elements like encouraging kindness. Help them understand why some fellow classmates may struggle if they do not have friends or face bullying. Explain and illustrate to them what constitutes caring and empathetic acts.
- Talk through things, but don’t go too far. The younger children may feel insecure in their environment after experiencing trauma. Explain the basics of what happened, but allow their questions to lead. Don’t overwhelm them with details and specifics. Much of the information is not going to aid in their development.
- Allow for grief. Grief is a natural part of experiencing death. One needs time to process the situation and loss. Healing can be helped through experiencing grief and working through it as a community. Contemplate a candlelight vigil or a walk for remembrance. Don’t force others to move through the grieving process if they are not ready.
- Take action. There are ways to enact change in your community moving forward. Horrible acts cannot always be avoided but there can be necessary challenges present. Put a “see something, say something” policy into place in the schools and communities for children and adults alike. If something feels off, contact local law enforcement and report your suspicions. You can never be too safe in the aftermath of a traumatic situation.
- Find acceptance and move forward. It may not be time just yet, but after grieving comes acceptance. Offer counseling for those who need more reflection to move forward. Continue to support those who were directly affected by bringing meals and allowing a healing space. Your efforts of support not only benefit others, but they can help you and your family as well. Life does go on, whether it is pretty or not. Make the best of your community’s struggle by remaining vigilant for the future.
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